The Stubborn Problem in Ads with Black people

2017-03-15 04:09

  I would’ve hoped this is a conversation we no longer need to have. I would’ve hoped that we would’ve all been in agreement by now, changed our ways, and stopped with what I find to be laziness at best, and lowkey racism at worst. I would’ve hoped that by now surely, articles such as Lwandile Fikeni’s ‘A reflection from being on the inside of the South African badvertising industry’, would be nothing more than the dying echo of a previous era. The reality is, however, this conversation is still as relevant as ever. There are many stereotypes we see in ads targeted at black people that refuse to go away. We dance for DSTV decoders. We dance (or dab) for airtime. We dance for chicken. If local ads are a true reflection of black people’s lives, then I’m shook because I must the only black South African that doesn’t know how to dance.   Being a black consumer and having no control over how your life is portrayed is frustrating. And imagine being on the other side. Imagine working with people that make these adverts. Imagine waking up every morning, knowing that one of your clients will need to ‘borrow your blackness’ for their latest campaign. I and many other creatives of colour find ourselves on the frontlines, challenging norms that are surprisingly persistent. We sit in meetings explaining how certain scenes, dialogue and taglines are actually offensive, no matter how ‘punchy’ they may sound.   We can’t tell authentic local stories without authentic collaborations between storytellers. There’s often nuances that get lost in translation when African stories are told through a non-African lens. You see it in cringeworthy catch-phrases, borrowed from that year’s biggest song. You see it in interracial interactions that feel forced and so exaggerated it’s embarrassing. These are problems that affect African storytelling across the board, not just the advertising industry.

I’ve always been fascinated by how time reveals patterns you otherwise don’t notice in the present. Time revealed the ‘cracks in the rainbow’ that were pointed out by a few critics of the then New South Africa. Time revealed that no matter how hard black people work in this country, without structural equality they will remain unempowered. So I’m going to set a reminder on my calendar, and if you’d also be so kind as to do so? Let’s all revisit this article 5 years from now. Let’s see if its content is still relevant. My bet is it still will be, but I do hope I’m wrong.

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